Even though we spend the vast majority of our childhood learning in formal education settings, there are so many useful life lessons and skills that our schools fail to teach us. Education might be effective in teaching us book smarts, but should go beyond classrooms and homework in teaching our youth how to live a fulfilling, meaningful, and happy life. We’re now beginning to see that growing into a healthy, happy, well-adjusted adult doesn’t just happen. It takes work and we should give our kids the tools and opportunities to learn how to accomplish this goal.
Yoga can help us find these things as adults, but research increasingly shows that it’s helpful for children, who begin yoga and meditation at a young age.
Yoga is about much more than the poses (asanas) and physical benefits. This ancient Indian art helps us truly connect with our bodies, our inner world and the web of life that we are all a part of. It’s mental and emotional benefits are profound and can be useful in the ups and downs of day to day life. It’s non-competitive and can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels and it imparts values like inclusivity, union and compassion, as opposed to always trying to be the best.
In our fast-paced, winner takes all world, children can derive tremendous benefits from the practice of yoga, and if you’re already a practitioner, there are many classes suited towards children and ways you can get your kids involved in your own yoga practice.
Here are some real ways yoga helps kids.
1. Stress Relief
We don’t even realize how stressed kids can be. They’re living in the same world we are. It can be too easy to think that because we’re the ones going to work, paying the bills and handling all the important decisions, that they don’t really have anything to get stressed or anxious about. But they can pick up on the hustle and bustle of daily life. They also feel pressured to perform, to live up to our expectations and to those of their teachers and peers.
Practicing yoga allows kids the ability to be in the moment, to tune everything out and quiet their minds. This gives them the strength to face their own challenges and to distance themselves from the noise around them. This can help them let go of enough mental clutter to realize what their dreams are and how to get to those dreams.
2. Yoga Builds Self-Love and a Positive Body Image
Imagine how different the world would be if we had all learned self-love when we were little. Yoga philosophy teaches us that in order to be able to open our hearts and show genuine love and respect for others, we must first conquer the fear of facing ourselves in all our nuances. Only after we learn to really see and accept ourselves can we do so for someone else.
Studies have shown that the practice of yoga promotes body positivity and increases previously low levels of body satisfaction. With the rise of social media, young adults are particularly vulnerable for developing a distorted image of their physical appearance. Because of this, this benefit of yoga for young people is of paramount importance.
3. Helps Kids Develop Their Creativity
Yoga classes for children are not taught the same way as the ones for adults. When doing postures like Simhasana (Lion pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra pose) or Vrksasana (Tree pose), teachers often encourage kids to imagine themselves as that animal. It’s not unusual in a children’s yoga class to hear teachers instruct kids to roar like a lion or imagine what it must be like to be as still as a tree for 100 years. These roles and the way games, music and storytelling are integrated into the sessions enhance their ability to make original connections between concepts and theories. Creativity is key to being able to think critically and to come up with solutions to problems and see opportunities.
4. Improves Focus and Self-Discipline
The Marshmallow Test illustrates how important patience, or the ability to delay gratification, is to resisting urges and achieving long term goals. From this you can probably see how this would play out in your kids’ future and how it raises their chances of achieving their long-term goals and living balanced, fulfilling lives.
Yoga encourages practitioners to connect with their inner selves by slowing the breath and focusing on the present, becoming aware of the different sensations in their bodies and their passing thoughts. They learn how to acknowledge their impulses in a nonjudgmental way but without acting on them, simply letting them go and coming back to the breath.
These skills make them more self-reflective and help them make healthier choices and resist potentially destructive peer pressure.
5. Physical Strength and Flexibility
Yoga is a full mind and body workout. Although the asanas might seem like low impact exercises, they actually require quite a lot of muscle power. Each pose targets a specific group of muscles, gradually strengthening them and improving posture.
This is even more important for kids. The poses that focus on stretching allows them to not lose their flexibility and helps children perform better in other sports, with a lower risk of injury.
If your child is particularly interested in athletics, practicing yoga is a great addition to their training regimen. It shortens the recovery period after demanding workouts, increases endurance, they’ll develop their muscles more evenly, as well as greater balance and coordination.
6. Better Sleep
There have been several scientific studies in recent years measuring the impact yoga has on the quantity and quality of sleep. Research has found that practitioners show a marked improvement in several aspects related to sleep, such as how long it takes to fall asleep, total sleep time and sleep efficiency, as well as how rested study participants felt during the day.
We already know how important sleep is for the brain development of kids and their ability to perform well academically. Sleep deprivation doesn’t only affect the ability to concentrate, short-term and long-term memory, but also the cardiovascular and immune system.
A purely pharmacological treatment of insomnia often comes with harmful side effects that are especially difficult for children to cope with. That makes yoga a much safer way to regulate sleep and prevent the development of chronic insomnia for our little ones.
The practice of yoga remains popular despite all the fitness fads that come and go because of its powerful, proven benefits. All the more reason to involve your kids to experience these benefits from an early age.
It can then be something you do together, a chance to bond and share something you’re both passionate about. Practicing yoga with your kids or encouraging them to try it for themselves, can inspire them to do something they can use as a healthy way of coping with stress throughout their lives.